Firefighters’ cancer risk to be identified through new national database

Professor Anna Stec, Professor in Fire Chemistry and Toxicity at the University of Central Lancashire (UCLan).

Researchers at the University of Central Lancashire (UCLan) have created a new nationwide database to assess the potential link between exposure to fire toxicants and the increased occurrence of cancers and other diseases among firefighters.

Known as the UK Firefighters Cancer and Disease Registry (FCDR), the database will collect information on firefighters’ work routines, exposure to fire effluents, lifestyle and health. This will enable scientists to identify and recognise most common cancers and diseases related to firefighters’ work, and, in the future, offer preventative health screening, education and support that is specifically designed to protect firefighters’ health.

The project, initiated and co-sponsored by the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) and clinicians working at the Royal Preston Hospital, will allow UCLan researchers to analyse data on a long-term basis. As part of this, they will track the number of cancer cases among firefighters over time, investigate possible causes of cancer and other diseases – such as exposure to fire toxicants – and evaluate the risk of different cancers among firefighters compared with the rest of the population.

This research will allow scientists to fully understand the link between the exposure to fire effluents that firefighters face at work and the prevalence of cancers or other diseases. All firefighters, both serving and retired, as well as those that have or have not been previously diagnosed with an illness, will be invited to register.

This research, commissioned by the Fire Brigades Union (FBU), follows an independent UCLan report that provides guidance for fire and rescue services on how to minimise exposure to fire effluents, as well as highlighting the high levels of carcinogens present in the working environment of firefighters.

Professor Anna Stec, Professor in Fire Chemistry and Toxicity at the University of Central Lancashire (UCLan), said, “The UK’s National Cancer Registry and Analysis Service is currently not able to provide any reliable data on cancer incidence or mortality amongst firefighters. Setting up the UK Firefighters Cancer and Disease Registry will enable us to identify and keep track of all firefighters who have been diagnosed with the diseases and cancers, as well as identify any association between firefighter’s occupation and exposure to fire carcinogens.

“We are calling on all firefighters, including those new to the career and those that have moved on, to register with the UK FCDR. Filling in this registry will help us to track the rates of cancer and disease case over time, as well as helping us to recognise most common diseases and cancers related to firefighters’ work and exposure to fire toxins.”

Matt Wrack, FBU General Secretary, added, “Firefighters take on huge risks when tackling an emergency, but the hazard to their health does not stop when a fire is extinguished. Every current and former firefighter who has suffered a serious or chronic illness needs to add their name to this register so we can further expose the shocking numbers of firefighters suffering from cancer and other diseases.

“In Canada and parts of the US, the link between firefighting and deadly diseases has been recognised in legislation, allowing firefighters and their families to receive compensation where health has been affected or where firefighters have died as a result. We need to be doing far more to avoid contamination in the first place but also, as the body of evidence continues to grow here, politicians in the UK must be willing to step up and protect their own firefighters.”

The UK Firefighters Cancer and Disease Registry can be accessed on the UCLan website here: